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Climate Change: Who Does the Chamber of Commerce Represent?
By Holly Testa, Director, Shareowner Engagement

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce http://www.uschamber.com made a big splash last fall when Chamber officials requested that the Environmental Protection Agency hold a public hearing on the scientific evidence for man-made climate change. They called it the "Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century," referencing the famous 1925 trial that pitted the scientific theory of evolution against creationism. This made for headline making publicity, but the Chamber was probably not prepared for an unintended consequence—an unprecedented level of criticism of its climate change stance from some of its own members.

Several large companies, including Apple, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Exelon, discontinued their memberships over the issue. In its letter to the Chamber, Apple stated “we strongly object to the chamber's recent comments opposing the EPA's efforts to limit greenhouse gases… we would prefer that the chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis." Nike withdrew from the board of directors, specifically citing the Chamber's "extreme position on climate change".

The dissonance within the Chamber may be more widespread than just a few large companies. Last fall, a group of 43 institutional investors and related firms representing about $16 billion in assets, including First Affirmative Financial Network, sent letters to 45 Chamber members. The letter asked each company if they agree with the Chamber's position on climate, and urged companies to distance themselves from the organization if they had differences. To date, 25 companies have responded, and no response has shown agreement with the Chamber's position on climate legislation.

A membership of 300,000 companies allow for a substantial lobbying budget. In fact, according to Bloomberg, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent a record $144 million on congressional lobbying in 2009, the first group ever to spend more than $100 million in a single year. The Supreme Court's recent Citizens United decision will likely allow for much greater political spending by the Chamber.

Several companies, including founding members Strauss & Co., Nike, Starbucks, Sun Microsystems, and Timberland, have formed Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) http://www.ceres.org/bicep. BICEP’s stated goal is to “work directly with key allies in the business community and with members of Congress to pass meaningful energy and climate change legislation.”

Some companies belong to both the Chamber and BICEP, putting them in the uncomfortable position of contributing corporate dollars in support of both sides of the climate issue. Hopefully, more Chamber members will make their voices heard and steer the organization toward a position on climate change that accurately reflects the views and goals of its membership. Hopefully more companies will realize that their future success is entwined with the common good of society at large.

Holly Testa, Business Development Consultant
hollytesta@firstaffirmative.com

Posted: February 24, 2010